Month: November 2012

Home Improvement: Issues with Interpreting Greek Domestic Archaeology

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Archaeological evidence is subject to many problems and difficulties when it comes to its interpretation.  Not only are the interpretations limited by physical features such as the lack of material, sites and samples; but are limited by the way people go about interpreting evidence, through bias, assumption and the overuse of sources such as the literary material.  One of the most prominent areas where this is illustrated is the Classical Greek household.

Pompeii - House of the Tragic Poet, Pompeii.
Pompeii – House of the Tragic Poet, Pompeii. (Photo credit: Brooklyn Museum)

One of the most prominent difficulties in interpreting the archaeological evidence is that scholars and archaeologists are vulnerable to assumption, especially in relation to the information provided by written sources.  Interpretations are known to have a tendency to attempt to correspond with the literary sources and this creates issues when assessing the archaeology as we have a case of ideology versus the behavioural realities of the society under question.  With reference to Greece households for instance, we have the debate concerning the division of male and female within the household.

The majority of texts on this subject are dominated by the use of the words ανδρωνιτις and γυναικωνιτις.  In both Xenophon and Lysias these words describe two divided areas in the house.[1]  In Lysias the house  is described as such.[2]  Lysias (i.9-10) and Xenophon (Oec.9.5) tell us that parts of fourth-century Athenian houses were set aside as women’s quarters inaccessible to outsiders.[3] Vitruvius also refers to a γυναικωνιτις as consisting of a variety of rooms.[4]   In addition to this Demosthenes (37.45-46) speaks of inner private areas of the house.[5]  Hesiod also alludes to space and gender and the link between femininity and the inner rooms of a household.[6]  Such sources have strongly influenced the interpretation of archaeology in Greek houses.

Susan Walker in her work, in order to illustrate these principles set out in the written sources, divides the plans of several Greek houses into ανδρωνιτις and γυναικωνιτις.  More recent interpretations of the archaeology by scholars such as Jameson and Nevett assess that Walker’s attempts to attribute gender have little support in published archaeological record, with the exception of the ανδρον.[7]  Jameson asserts that archaeology might make us question the reliability of written sources in relation to attributing gender to space, ‘distinguishing between ideology and behavioural realities.’[8] Antonaccio explains that ‘texts cannot serve as a simple handbook to reading the archaeological record.’[9]  For instance, despite the literary evidence outlining separate areas for males and females it is not possible to truly identify areas in excavated Greek houses that correspond to this.  One can see though why making assumptions based on literary evidence could be appealing, the textual evidence often appears more persuasive that the archaeological record, for instance, literary sources for the γυναικωνιτις.[10]

Classical Greek households are a prime example of how archaeological evidence is difficult to interpret due to limited material as we have only remains.  The limited evidence for superstructures, for instance, means rooms and their archaeology cannot be interpreted fully.  This is seen at Halieis in House 7,[11] where the house was built with stone foundations supporting a mud brick superstructure.[12]  House 7 is exemplar of the vast majority of houses in Classical Greece with its mud brick superstructure which would not have survived.

Olythos provides us with an example of houses and their associated materials as seventy houses have been fully excavated. All of these materials, except the stone, are not very durable and such buildings are frequently poorly preserved.[13]  At Olythos again the walls were of mud brick and as a result little is known of their superstructures.[14]  This means that the organisation of these households and the functions of spaces are generally open to debate and the archaeological evidence cannot be properly interpreted.

Ancient Greek MosaicMosaic floor, House of Dio...
Ancient Greek MosaicMosaic floor, House of Dionysos (Photo credit: davesandford)

The lack of durability includes the difficulty in identifying upper levels of buildings.  We know from literary evidence that upper floors were known and some houses show evidence of stone stair bases.  But owing to a significant lack of stratigraphic or artifactual evidence it is not possible to distinguish debris in the archaeology that may have come from a second storey.[15]  This also presents a problem in interpreting the archaeological evidence as upper storey debris cannot be distinguished from floor level deposits.[16]  Nevett asserts that even when the buildings are well preserved they contain few fixtures and fittings allowing for a more acceptable interpretation.[17]

Who interprets the archaeology in itself creates issues.  Nationalist aims, sectarian objectives, and political agendas often act as a basis for the interpretation of archaeological evidence whether the interpreter realises that they are incorporating it or not.[18]  Two of the most prevalent of these is the concepts of feminist archaeology and androcentric views brought by male bias.[19]  These views of the interpreter coincide with the issues of assumption discussed earlier, as individuals make assumptions on the evidence based on their particular viewpoints or ideas which have sunk into their minds.

In relation to gender in the Classical Greek household Antonaccio explains it thus, that ‘pessimists’ see evidence as proof that women have always been oppressed while ‘optimists’ concentrate on valuing women, making their contributions visible and uncovering subversive power.[20]  This asserts that the mindset of an individual can have a significant impact on the interpretation of evidence as they attempt to find proof that coincides with their theories or ideologies.  One cannot provide the truly objective view that is thought necessary to interpret the bare evidence, even if they tried.  This in itself is a problem in regards to domestic archaeology.

It is difficult to interpret archaeological evidence when one has a certain mindset.  This is illustrated in debate over gender and space in reference to Classical Greek households.  The ideas surrounding the archaeological evidence are varied and widely open to debate.  Walker, for instance, assumes that space was rigidly divided into male and female areas; Nevett on the other hand identifies that it is public areas that are male space and the rest of the house hold was an appropriate area for women, that space could be conceived as having varying amounts of maleness rather than there being two distinct categories.[21]  Walker seems to be trying to place an idea onto the archaeological evidence when the evidence does not necessarily conform to that idea.

Ancient Halieis
Ancient Halieis (Photo credit: diffendale)

Portability of artefacts also makes it very difficult to interpret the material as artefacts are often out of context and cannot be interpreted properly. In the case of Greek households and the domestic utensils that would have been used in them; these utensils could be used to explore the activities within the household and to answer questions of function and gender relations as well as social and economic questions.[27]  The interpretation of evidence is very difficult in light of a large fragment of it being portable and possibly not in context; it also means that we cannot tell what spaces had specialised functions. This also makes it difficult to assess the flexibility of space, implicit in Lysias with Euphiletos’ description of the relegation of his wife and child.[28] It is also difficult to interpret the archaeology as many tasks had little equipment and left little trace.

Comparative evidence in the form of cross-cultural and ethnographic examples has provided models for a number of interpretations throughout archaeology, for instance, strict architectural configurations of space along gender lines.[29]  This helps to correlate patterns and matching social structures which have been outlined in Greek literature in relation to households.  Nevett explores the use of comparative evidence in interpretation by comparing evidence from Nichoria, Lefkandi and Eretria to identify certain trends and distinctions.[30]  But, comparative studies in the interpretation of archaeology are not always helpful as they create a degree of difficulty as they may also be misleading. Morris asserts that comparative evidence can never prove a specific argument right or wrong.[31]  In interpreting archaeological evidence it is necessary to use comparisons but conclusions are in danger of being made that may correspond to the comparison but not to the evidence being interpreted itself.

Archaeological material also sees a large amount of variability over areas and time.  The interpretation of evidence is difficult in relation to these things as one must distinguish between different phases of use and types of material.  For instance, at Delos in the House of the Dolphins there is indication of not only different phases of use but influences from non-Greek patterns of domestic life.[32]  These introduce different priorities and social patterns over time and cultures which are difficult to distinguish and interpret in the archaeological record.

J.I 2012


[1] Nevett, L.C., Gender Relations in the Classical Greek Household: The Archaeological Evidence, in The Annual of the British School at Athens, Vol.90, Centenary Volume (1995), p.363 – , in Xenophon they are positioned side by side and in Lysias positioned upper and lower

[2] Lysias ‘Against Eratosthenes’ with an English translation by W.R.M. Lamb, M.A. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. (1930), Lysias I.9-10 – Now in the first place I must tell you, sirs (for I am obliged to give you these particulars)… πρῶτον μὲν οὖν, ἄνδρες,(δεῖ γὰρ καὶ ταῦθ᾽ ὑμῖν διηγήσασθαιοἰκίδιον ἔστι μοι διπλοῦν,  ἴσα ἔχον τὰ ἄνω τοῖς κάτω κατὰ τὴν γυναικωνῖτινκαὶ κατὰ τὴν ἀνδρωνῖτιν

[3] Morris, I., Archaeology and Gender Ideologies in Early Archaic Greece, in Transactions of the American Philological Association (1974-), Vol.129 (1999), p.306

[4] Vitruvius vi.7, in Nevett, L.C., Gender Relations in the Classical Greek Household: The Archaeological Evidence, in The Annual of the British School at Athens, Vol.90, Centenary Volume (1995), p.336 – the γυναικωνιτις consisting of cubicula, triclinia cotidiana and sollae – Vitruvius though is well-known to have too many unknown factors, such as whether the date being referred to is contemporary to Vitruvius or to a date in the past, the geographical area in question and what were Vitruvius’ sources of information.

[5] Demosthenes 37.45-46, in Demosthenis.Orationes. ed. W. Rennie. Oxonii. E Typographeo Clarendoniano (1921) – the plaintiff charged that Evergus came to his home in the country, and made his way into the apartments of his daughters, who were heiresses, and of his mother; and he brought with him into court the laws concerning heiresses. οὗτος γὰρ ᾐτιάσατ᾽ ἐκεῖνον πρὸς ἅπασιτοῖς ἄλλοις ἐλθόντ᾽ εἰς ἀγρὸν ὡς αὑτὸν ἐπὶ τὰς ἐπικλήρους εἰσελθεῖν καὶτὴν μητέρα τὴν αὑτοῦ, καὶ τοὺς νόμους ἧκεν ἔχων τοὺς τῶν ἐπικλήρων πρὸςτὸ δικαστήριον

[6] Hesiod, 519-25 in Morris, I., Archaeology and Gender Ideologies in Early Archaic Greece, in Transactions of the American Philological Association (1974-), Vol.129 (1999), p.308 – Hesiod states that ‘Boreas does not pierce the soft-skinned girl who stays indoors at home with her mother

[7] Morris, op.cit., p.306, ανδρον – men’s dining room

[8] Ibid., p.306

[9] Antonaccio, C.M., Architecture and Behaviour: Building Gender into Greek Houses, in The Classical World, vol.93, No.5 (May-Jun, 2000), p.525

[10] Gould, J., Law, Custom, and Myth: Aspects of the Social Position of Women in Classical Athens (1980), p.38-59

[11] One of only two houses at the site for which the full horizontal extent has been recovered through excavation

[12] Ault, p.485

[13] Nevett, L., Housing and Households: The Greek World, in Classical Archaeology, p.206

[14] Nevett, Gender Relations, op.cit., p.367 – despite fifty-five buildings being well-preserved enough to yield complete plans

[15] Ault, B.A., Living in the Classical Polis: The Greek House as Microcosm, in The Classical World, Vol.93, No.5 (May-Jun, 2000), p.487

[16] Antonaccio, op.cit., p.529 – Antonaccio explains that some scholars have taken this issue and assumed that the γυναικωνιτιν was located in the upper storey and this is why such an area is not apparent.[16]

[17] Nevett, Houses and Households, op.cit., p.206 – Unit IV.5 at Nichoria in Messenia has been interpreted in two different ways.  Coulson believes that Unit IV.5 had a small roofed area and adjoining enclosure, whereas Mazarakis Ainian believes that it was larger and fully roofed.  This shows that the same evidence can be interpreted differently.

[18] Renfrew, C., and Bahn, P., Archaeology: Theories, Methods and Practice (London, 2008), p.571

[19] As so much of archaeological writing is written my males even in the present day, despite the growing number of female scholars and archaeologists

[20] Antonaccio, op.cit., p.518

[21] Morris, op.cit., p.309

[22] Nevett, Gender Relations, op.cit., p.380

[23] Ibid., p.380

[24] Morris, op.cit., p.309

[25] Nevett, Gender Relations, op.cit., p.376

[26] Ault, op.cit., p.485

[27] Antonaccio, op.cit., p.528

[28] Lysias ‘Against Eratosthenes’ with an English translation by W.R.M. Lamb, M.A. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. (1930), Lysias I.9  – When the child was born to us, its mother suckled it; and in order that, each time that it had to be washed, she might avoid the risk of descending by the stairs, I used to live above, and the women below. ἐπειδὴ δὲ τὸ παιδίον ἐγένετο ἡμῖν, μήτηρ αὐτὸἐθήλαζεν: ἵνα δὲ μή, ὁπότε λοῦσθαι δέοι, κινδυνεύῃ κατὰ τῆς κλίμακοςκαταβαίνουσα, ἐγὼ μὲν ἄνω διῃτώμην, αἱ δὲ γυναῖκες κάτω.

[29] Antonaccio, op.cit., p.519

[30] Nevett, Houses and Households, op.cit., p.208

[31] Morris, op.cit., p.310

[32] Nevett, Houses and Households, op.cit., p.221

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Roman Culture in Etrurian and Campanian Archaeology

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Roman culture is detectable archaeologically throughout Etruria and Campania in the cities and landscapes of the regions.  We still see Roman roads in use today! But what can these and other archaeological evidence tell us about the Romans expansion throughout Italy? Frankly, way too much to cover in one article, so let us look briefly at an area of really interesting archaeology, Etruria and Campania in what is now Modern Italy.

English: Map of ancient Campania
Map of Ancient Campania

With the development of modern survey techniques the introduction and distribution of Roman road systems, throughout the landscape of Etruria and Campania, illustrates the expansion of Roman culture within this landscape.  The road systems acted as a stamp of Roman authority and new order in the locality and their distribution maps out the movement and expansion of Roman influence and culture.[1] These Roman highways often left a clear cutting which can still be seen near to modern roads in many places throughout Italy.[2]  Basaltic paving blocks are also frequently uncovered by modern excavations, and accidently, and are indicative of a Roman road being situated nearby.[3]  The Via Amerina has been noted as the earliest of these archaeological features, dating to approximately 241BC and is detectably archaeologically cutting through the Faliscan territory and into southern Umbria.[4]  The Via Amerina was later joined by other roads cutting through the landscape such as the Via Flaminia and the Via Aurelia, constructed in 220BC and c.144BC respectively.[5]  Each of these serving new colonies and often bypassing old Etruscan towns providing a map of the pathways Roman culture followed into Etruria and Campania in the late centuries BC.

Several ground surveys, such as that done by Ward-Perkins in the early 1950s, have established many of these road networks as adaptations of existing roadways, serving the needs of a highly decentralised population.[6]  The colony of Nepi was quickly connected with Rome by means of the Via Amerina, establishing not just a colonial but a physical link to Roman influence.[7]  When assessed in terms of the location of these valuable archaeological features, [8]  we can also see which Etruscan towns were likely to have suffered Roman influence on a lesser scale, for instance, Veii which was left to the backwater after its initial destruction and restructure.[9] Or alternatively where the Roman culture was more prevalent where towns were joined to the road system, such as Volsini.

The area has been subject to various field surveys over the years which have a primary basis in exploring the changing pottery tradition, illustrating the rise of Roman wares in the region as the culture fanned out of Rome.[10]  And despite the difficulties in dating, the information gathered from ceramics can show changes in occupation, and maps of pottery distribution can give consistent patterns illustrating cultural variations.[11]  Ward-Perkins’ ground survey of around 2000 archaeological sites in Campania has allowed for analysis on the changing tradition from pre-Roman Etruscan wares and bucchero[12] to Roman black-glazed wares, indicative of the third to first centuries BC.[13]

The change of abundance of different pottery types throughout Etruria and Campania are indicative of the expansion and distribution of Roman influence and culture.  It has been used in recent years to illustrate occupational patterns even though the common black glazed ware has been subject to dating issues.[14]  This expansion and change of occupation is seen fanning out from Rome to a vast number of sites such as Roselle, in the territory of Volsinii, where an abundance of black-glazed pottery was uncovered dating to the Roman conquest and Late Etruscan Period.  Veii has also been subject to field walking and this archaeological technique has brought to light a considerable amount of black glazed ware and late almond rim ceramic indicative of the links with Roman culture and its expansion with the conquest of Italy.[15]

Street in Pompeii Svenska: En lugn gata i Pompeji
Street in Pompeii

Numismatic evidence provides an excellent point by which the introduction of Roman culture can be dated as coinage allows exact dates to be given and the earliest of these dates can be used to some degree to determine the earliest movement into the area.  Coin hoards found throughout Etruria and Campania such as at Cosa where 2004 Roman Denarii among other numismatic assemblages.[17]  The mint at Cosa also indicates that Roman coinage styles were adopted by the population of Cosa itself rather than just being imported.[18]

Survey work and archaeological exploration has uncovered that colonization was a significant part of the expansion of Roman power and influence in that it secured a rational exploitation of resources.[19]  The Latin colony of Cosa is a prime example of a site in Etruria which contains a complex body of material evidence illustrating the expansion and implementation of Roman culture away from Rome.[20]  Archaeological excavations have determined that Cosa was built almost entirely on a purely Roman foundation.[21]  Cosa has been assessed by archaeologists as being mutatis mutandis, made in the image of Rome.[22]

While there has been some debate that archaeologists and scholars may be pushing the image of Rome on these colonies, there is still a vast number of similarities that display the expansion of Roman culture.  The immigrants to colonies were Latin speakers and the towns they populated were fashioned to reflect their own expectations.  Not only was the layout often fashioned with links to that of Rome, but many of the buildings and architecture is seen to have reflected Rome’s.  The temple of Concordia at Cosa, identified by the inscription ‘Concordiae’, displays the expansion of this.[23]  Buildings such as the Comitium excavated at Cosa also display links and similarities to the Comitium at Rome, and it is almost identical to those at Paestum, Fregallae and Alba Fucens as well.[24]

Sites at Campania also show this link to Rome, and the relative dates of material and architectural features within these sites allow us to map over time the expansion of Roman culture throughout both Campania and Etruria.  The most significant and well known of these examples in Campania is Pompeii.  Unlike the example of Cosa, this site represents a number of towns that had Roman culture thrust upon an already established urban site.  Pompeii was colonised by the Romans c.80BC leading to major work upon the city’s public architecture.[25]  The archaeology of Pompeii includes a covered theatre and an amphitheatre dedicated by C.Quinctius Valgus and M.Porcius.[26]  The expansion of Roman culture is also detectable in the use of materials such as yellow turf from the Campi Phlegraei and baked terracotta at Pompeii and techniques such as opus reticulatun.[27]  Architectural features such as the vaulted ceilings of the first century BC among other examples are also indicative of the expanding contribution of Roman architecture.[28]

Wallace-Hadrill and Fulford following their excavations of Insula I,9 in Pompeii and the House of Menander have explicitly questioned the use of materials to date architectural features, and the limitations of stone and architectural typologies.[29] While debates rise on the usefulness of materials to establish dates of certain features and their inclusion over time into settlement and building structure, they remain a means to detect the incorporation of Roman culture and styles into sites.[30] The use of stratigraphy, can be used to make up for the limitations of typological analysis to display the movement of Roman culture into an area over time, such as the policy of stratigraphical policy and exploration developed by Maiuri at Pompeii surrounding the excavation of the House of the Surgeon.[31]

The addition of typically Roman features such as their complex array of water systems, established in the last centuries BC throughout Campania and Etruria, also provide a means by which the expansion of Roman culture is detectable through the ability to add to urban infrastructure.  There appears to have been no clearer example of the adoption of Roman lifestyle and values than bath-building and the adoption of Roman water systems.  Examples of this adoption are seen at Musarna near Tuscania with the building of Roman style baths around 100BC to cater for a growing Roman influence and population.[32]  The most prominent examples are seen though within the archaeology of the Vesuvian cities of Campania, such as at Pompeii and Herculaneum.  Both in the private sector and the public sector of urban life appears to have been affected by Roman inclusions as seen in the archaeology.

Like the architectural features explored briefly above, the water systems provided for the needs and demands of Roman citizens in occupied areas.  One prime example of these systems in the archaeology is at Pompeii in first century residences after the colonization by Rome, especially seen in the archaeology of the House of the Vestals.  Extensive excavations undertaken by the Anglo-American Project in Pompeii in the House of the Vestals has enabled the vast majority of these Roman water systems to be analysed and mapped, and in turn has allowed for analysis of temporal development and cultural implications.[33]  Excavations have uncovered the addition of pressurized water from the newly formed aqueduct along with numerous pipes, cisterns and cesspits attached to fountains, baths and pools throughout the property.[34]  The House of the Vestals is just one such example of how water features were central to structural changes and indicative of the expansion of Roman culture and values.

The scholarly assessments of the Romanization of Italy pay the majority of attention to urban centres and public spaces, but the expansion of Roman culture is also detectable through the analysis of funerary archaeology and inscriptions.[35]  This is seen at Volaterrae, where funerary inscriptions are almost exclusively Latinised as well as the names on these inscriptions by the end of the first century BC.[36]  These along with the appearance of Latin cults and religious centres, alongside Etruscan ones, is also indicative of the expanding Roman culture and religion in the periods of conquest.  The Temple of the Capitoline hill at Cosa is a prime example of the expansion of religious aspects, and its stratigraphy illustrates the increasing religious importance and development.[37]  Excavations at the centre of the structure have revealed layers of carbonized earth suggesting a ritual space and centre which continued in use and significance from the first years of colonization.[38]

English: Ancient roman road which leaded from ...
Ancient roman road which leaded from Savaria to the imperial Rome.

The rural areas of Etruria and Campania also contain archaeological materials and evidence that are characteristic of the expansion of Roman culture in a rural context.  Excavations and surveys of a number of small farm complexes in both northern and southern Etruria display this as the Romans expanded their influence into the area taking advantage of the fertile landscape.[40]  The farms in Southern Etruria appear more so to show Roman influence as they many were probably built to Roman standards.[41]  The South Etruria survey provides a view into rural areas such as Ager Faliscus, where eighty percent of farm sites from the period of Romanization appear to have been abandoned after the 241BC defeat.[42]  The material evidence from the remaining twenty percent of sites show a strong inclination towards Roman standards.

The abandonment and redistribution of rural sites as seen in the archaeology also shows the movement of Roman colonists and culture throughout the areas in question.  The area of Cosa again provides a prime example of this movement of Roman influence into Etruria.  An analysis of surveyed farm sites in the area dating to the time of Romanization shows that of the fifty-eight Etruscan farms in the fourth century BC only 16 farms survived after the mid third.[43]  This is also evident at Vulci and the territory of Saturnia where the majority of lands were redistributed between Roman colonists after the areas defeat.[44]  The South Etruria survey also revealed that Ager Faliscus’ rural areas suffered the same fate with 80% of surveyed sites appearing to be abandoned by Etruscan culture after the defeat of 241BC.[45] By surveying and mapping these sites and analysing material evidence, archaeologists can determine the spread of Roman colonisation and in turn their culture.  For instance, the areas noted before appear to have suffered a considerable change in ownership with the expansion of Roman influence and power, on the other hand, areas such as Veii and Bracciano have a far higher percentage of surviving Etruscan sites.

The Romanization of Etruria and Campania in the last few centuries has been thoroughly examined my scholars and archaeologists for many years and the expansion of Roman Culture is indeed detectable through many aspects of the archaeology and landscape of the areas.  Urban centres appear to provide the most bountiful assemblages of artefacts and architectural features which can be used to map out the distribution and development of Roman culture.  One of the most explicitly visual ways that Roman culture is detectable is with the mapping out of and analysis of Roman road routes and the path of influence with colonization and trade.

J.I 2012


[1] Potter, T.W., Towns and Territories in Southern Etruria in Rich, J., and Wallace-Hadrill, A., City and Country in the Ancient World (London), p.199 – Roman roads were essential to the expansion of the empire.  Through them archaeologists can track the movement of Roman influence.  Way stations, mile stones and other material evidence also provide archaeological indicators by which to track the expansion.

[2] Hemphill, P., An Archaeological Survey of Southern Etruria (1970), p.35

[3] Ibid., p.35

[4] Barker, G. and Rasmussen, T., The Etruscans (Oxford, 2000), p.267

[5] Ibid., p.297

[6] Blake, H., Potter, T.W., and Whitehouse, D.B., Papers in Italian Archaeology I: The Lancaster Seminar, Recent Research in Prehistoric, Classical and Medieval Archaeology Part I (1978), p.99 & 107

[7] Potter, op.cit., p.197

[8] Barker, G. and Rasmussen, T., op.cit., p.267 – These roads also served to suit Roman needs such as military movements into Etruria and beyond, and are important to the archaeological record as conveying the expansion of Roman culture through such mediums as the movements of the army and the connection of new colonies to Rome itself.

[9] Ibid., p.268

[10] Barker, G. and Rasmussen, T.,op.cit., p.269

[11] Hemhill, op.cit., p.36

[12][12] Bucchero is a grey to black fabric with a burnished finish and appears in small quantities through sites of the Etruscan period.

[13] Blake, H., Potter, T.W., and Whitehouse, D.B., op.cit., p.102

[14] Hemhill, op.cit., p.35

[15] Barker, G. and Rasmussen, T.,op.cit., p.275 – Veii offers a typical example of the development of an Italic settlements probably the most famous of towns in Southern Etruria. See Owens, E.J., The City in the Greek and Roman World, pp.97-120

[17] Buttrey, T.V., Cosa: The Coins, in Memoirs of the American Academy in Rome, Vol.34 (1980), p.5

[18] Ibid., p.17

[19] Torelli, M., Tota Italia – Essays in the Cultural Formation of Roman Italy (Oxford, 1999), p.3

[20] Cosa – is a Latin colony situated in modern Tuscany.  It was perhaps confiscated land from the Etruscans but archaeology points more towards it being a new colony.

[21] Brown in Fentress, E., Romanization and the City: Creation, Transformations and Failures (1998), p.11

[22] Ibid., p.11

[23] Brown in Fentress, E., op.cit., p.20

[24] Ibid., p.22 – The Comitium is recognised as a centre of judicial and political activities in a Roman Forum.  The placement of this type of building in colonies indicates a movement of the Roman culture to sites around Italy, namely in Etruria and Campania.

[25] Ling, R., Pompeii – History, Life and Afterlife (Gloucestershire, 2007), p.53

[26] Ibid., p.54

[27] Ling, op.cit., p.61

[28] Ibid., p.61

[29] Jones, R., and Robinson, D., The Making of an Elite House: The House of the Vestals at Pompeii in Journal of Roman Archaeology, Vol.17 (2004), p.107

[30] This can be asserted, even though a temporal record of incorporation can not fully be established by means of typologies.

[31] Ibid., p.107

[32] Barker, G. and Rasmussen, T., op.cit., p.292

[33] Jones, R., and Robinson, D., Water, Wealth and Social Status at Pompeii: The House of the Vestals in the First Century in American Journal of Archaeology, Vol.109 (2005), p.696

[34] Ibid., p.697

[35] Terrenato, N., Tam Firmum Municipium: The Romanization of Volaterrae and Its Cultural Implications, in The Journal of Roman Studies, Vol.88 (1998), p.105

[36] Ibid., p.105 – Volaterrae was an important Etruscan centre which became a municipium after the Roman conquest.  This information comes from the results of a field survey providing major additions to a subject previously vague launched in 1987, calling for a radical rethinking of local history. Involving a large scattering of material evidence of funerary culture and settlement culture.  Often in contrast to more southerly surveys in Etruria which are known to be used to represent the region as a whole.  Saying this, the surveys surrounding Volaterrae still provide essential indication of the latinisation of Etruscan metropolises.

[37] Fentress, op.cit., p.23 – the Capitoline hill was the arx of Cosa and received a vast amount of attention by Frank.E.Brown

[38] Fentress, op.cit., p.23

[40] Terranato, op.cit., p.102 – South Etruria Survey plus numerous others between 1960 and the present day

[41] Ibid., p.104

[42] Barker, G. and Rasmussen, T., op.cit., p.269

[43] Fentress, op.cit., p.12 – work of Frank Brown published in Fentress

[44] Ibid., p.12

[45] Barker, G. and Rasmussen, T., op.cit., p.270

The Understanding of Hieroglyphs from Roman Times Onwards: An Overview

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Egyptian hieroglyphics have always been seen as a mysterious and exotic script that has captured the interest of society from the Roman occupation of Egypt, right down to the present day.  Though they have always been a subject of interest, people’s understandings of this ancient script have been forever influenced by aspects that limited their understanding.  This report looks into those influences passed down from generation to generation of scholars and within everyday society, from the days of the Roman tourists in Egypt, where Egyptian guides purposely gave the Romans misinformation, and the interpretation of hieroglyphs was mistaken by the Roman views. Through the renaissance and classical periods, scholars were still influenced by early writings and the society,  right down to the eighteen hundreds, until Champollion decided to take a different view. But before this sudden change, he, like hundreds of others was unable to accept any other possibilities.  These early influences included the effects of Hor-Apollo’s writings, Kircher and Young, plus many others.  There are however some historians who don’t believe these writings were major influence.

Hieroglyphs typical of the Graeco-Roman period

The scholarship associated with the translation of hieroglyphs have greatly influenced the general interpretation of their meanings even in the Roman times.  Hilary Wilson demonstrates that the writings of early translators influenced the understanding of the script until the nineteenth century AD.  Robinson evaluates that the understanding of the Romans was misguided by an Egyptian priest by the name of Hor-Apollo.  Hor-Apollo wrote a book in Coptic which had a dramatic effect on the study of Hieroglyphs.  Hor-Apollo’s work insisted that each sign had a single pictorial or symbolic meaning, this indicates that he completely misunderstood the writing system used by his ancestors.  Unfortunately, because it was considered to have been written by someone informed, Hor-Apollo’s work was used as a guide for all future students of hieroglyphs.

Though the translations of Hor-Apollo were meant to be correct and did not intentionally lead people into thinking incorrectly, there were other influences on the Roman understanding of hieroglyphs that were purposely trying to lead them astray. Montet asserts that in the Graeco-Roman period it gave the Egyptian community great satisfaction to mislead foreigners.  They did this by concocting unintelligible documents, of which the foreigners could make nothing.  Perrottet explains that because of this misinformation; it was misguidedly thought that hieroglyphs were only magical riddles, enchantments and spells.  Perrottet however disagrees with Hor-Apollo being the original major source of the misinterpretation.  He assesses that the Roman tourists were misled by spell books supposedly written ten thousand years earlier by Hermes Trismegistus.  These writings however were nothing more than items to entice tourists. With the Roman’s great depth of superstition and with nobody to contradict the Egyptian guides’ explanations; they had no reason to doubt what they were being told.

Hoijer is one of a group of historians who believe differently.  Hoijer evaluates that the Romans were not influenced by the writings and misinterpretations of others, but by the fact that like the majority of historians and society, they viewed the land and its culture through the distorted prism of their own culture.  Due to this, we can evaluate that as a result they misinterpreted almost everything.  Parkinson agrees with the point relating to culture, but also attributes the misinterpretation to the before-mentioned point concerning historians in the ancient world fueling the beliefs of the Romans, mentioning that the Egyptians also contributed to this, by fueling the disinformation.

The understanding of the Romans set groundwork for future scholars.  Robinson outlines that with the renaissance, the revival of classical learning, came a revival of the Roman belief in Egyptian hieroglyphic wisdom.  Due to this revival, renaissance writers continued to write and translate hieroglyphs to the standards set out by the Roman beliefs.  This led to the first book, written in the sixteenth century by Pierius Valerianus, on hieroglyphs, being basically fictitious.  This is because Valerianus took a narrow-minded view in his translations, taking his cue directly from Hor-Apollo’s incorrect translations and not attempting to look at them in any other way.  Sacks assesses that because the translations of text were flawed and made no logical sense, classical scholars continued to believe long after the time of the Romans, that hieroglyphs were nothing more than riddles and enchantments.

Scholars and philosophers continued to attempt to translate the hieroglyphs as they believed they would find ancient wisdom and long-forgotten truths, confirmation of biblical stories and some proof of the existence of figures such as Abraham, Joseph and Moses.  This is another example of how the writing of history affected the understandings of hieroglyphs.  In this case, the religious scholars were taking their experience and trying to link it to the translation of the hieroglyphs.  This was mainly because of the Egyptian connection to the biblical stories; so scholars alleged that the Bible would be confirmed by the ancient script.

In the late seventeenth century, the Coptic language was revived and would later be essential in the deciphering of the hieroglyphs.  But scholars were still under the impression that the writing of Hor-Apollo and Valerianus held the key to translating the hieroglyphs.  In the renaissance, scholars were interested in Egypt and were anxious to discover the meaning of the hieroglyphic writing.  The Jesuit, Kircher, was the best known of these pioneers. Kircher outlined that Egyptian hieroglyphs only expressed ideas rather than sounds and ideas.  Due to this misinterpretation, Champollion was still possessed by this idea in the nineteenth century. In the mid seventeenth century, Athanasius translated a cartouche for a priest and came out with a long rambling paragraph, however the cartouche really only read the name ‘Psamtik’ spelt phonetically. This mistake is an example of how the ideas and experiences of others have caused distortion.

Robinson evaluates that it was only later that the enlightenment made by the revival of the Coptic language brought about questions of the classical views of hieroglyphs.  Though the views did start to be questioned by the few, the original views were still held by the majority.  It was the few who made progress towards the actual deciphering of hieroglyphs.  This shows progress could only be made by those who took a more impartial view over their work.  For instance, Barthélemy discovered that the cartouches contained the names of Egyptian Kings and Queens only by looking outside society’s understandings and beliefs drawn from Hor-Apollo’s writings.  However it was Zoëga who finally commented that some hieroglyphs might be phonetic signs.  This was only because, unlike other academics, Zoëga thought more on his own terms.

The demotic language scripts on the Rosetta St...
The demotic language scripts on the Rosetta Stone, year 196 BC.

Napoleon Bonaparte played a large role leading up to decipherment.  When he traveled to Egypt he took with him a large number of scholars.  These scholars studied and measured every site and every visible monument, finally publishing their findings in ‘La Description de l’Egypt’.  However the influence of past work in the decipherment of hieroglyphs prevented them from deciphering the elements they studied.  Scholars in the case of the Rosetta stone immediately concluded that the inscription was wholly non-phonetic, its symbols expressing ideas in the manner of Hor-Apollo.

In the decipherment efforts in the early nineteenth century, it was noted that there was a difference between the hieroglyphic and the Egyptian Demotic writings found on the Rosetta stone.  It was Thomas Young who first noted a striking resemblance between some demotic symbols and the corresponding hieroglyphs, he noted that ‘none of these characters could be reconciled, without inconceivable violence, to the forms of any imaginable alphabet’.  Young put a step forward but came unstuck.  The influence of the early work of Hor-Apollo and Young’s experience and teachings, made Young unable to accept anything but that all hieroglyphs (apart from foreign names) were non-phonetic.

Even Jean-Francois Champollion, the final decipherer of the hieroglyphic script, at first continued to believe that the hieroglyphs were entirely non-phonetic.  Champollion was not only influenced by Hor-Apollo and other past historians and translators, but also by the scholars of his own time.  He was mostly influenced by Young’s work.  Unlike Young, Champollion had an originality and rigour, which was based on a knowledge of Egypt and its languages far superior to his predecessors.  This was a key component in translating hieroglyphs, as it allowed Champollion to look at a far bigger picture, yet he was still caught in the webs of disinformation from the past.  Robinson outlines that the early efforts of Champollion in 1822 were based on the premise that only non-Egyptian names and words in both demotic and hieroglyphic were spelt alphabetically. Champollion did not expect that this decipherment would apply to the entire hieroglyphic system.

Champollion, though for unknown reasons, later changed his mind about the phonetic issues with hieroglyphs, this was most likely due to yet another outside influence.  A contemporary French scholar of the Chinese language suggested that there were phonetic elements even in the indigenous spellings of the Chinese script with its thousands of characters.  This outside influence, though not directed at hieroglyphs, could have made Champollion wonder whether the same philosophy could be assumed for deciphering Egyptian Hieroglyphics.

Champollion also realized that among the one thousand four hundred and nineteen signs in hieroglyphs on the Rosetta stone it contained only sixty-six different signs.   His experience told him that if the signs were truly and only semantic symbols, there would logically expected to be more than sixty six signs on the Rosetta stone, each one representing a different word as they would have been logograms.  It was only through Champollion’s change of mind that we today understand the true nature of hieroglyphics, that the writing system is a mixture of semantic symbols, phonetic signs, phonograms and determinatives.

Archaeology and Artifacts in the National Museum of Beirut

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We talk often about the archaeology and artifacts, excavations and publications, but little do we hear about the museums that house these wonderful pieces of history. A Lebanese friend of mine recently told me of a restoration effort that I had never even heard of before and is an interesting story of what can be achieved even after devastation and vandalism.

The Beirut National Museum has been through a lot in its relatively short history. This museum is the principal museum of archaeology in Lebanon and is one of the most significant Near Eastern museums of archaeology because of its rich collection which is even more impressive because of the trials this collection has suffered. The idea for the museum was conceived in 1919 with its foundations in the collection of the French officer Raymond Weill who was stationed in Lebanon. In 1923 an official founding commitee was set up called the ‘friends of the museum committee’ which was headed by the then Prime Minister and Minister of Education and Fine Arts, Bechara El Khory. Work began with the work of architects Antoine Nahas and Pierre Leprince Ringuet and the building was completed in 1937 in the area of the Beirut Hippodrome.

While the opening was postponed because of the lead-up to WW2, the museum was finally opened in May 1942 by President Alfred Naqqache. It housed objects from prehistory all the way to the 19th century AD including large sarcophagi, mosaics and smaller collections of artifacts including jewelry, coins and ceramics. For the first 30 years of its operation, the museum added extensively to the collections through excavations undertaken under the direction of the Directorate General of Antiquities.

With the outbreak of the Lebanese Civil War, the museum closed its doors in 1975 with the situation in decline and the buildings located on the demarcation line which had divided Beirut. The museum and its antiquities thus became a victim of the raging war. Originally the authorities intended the closure to be temporary but this closure ended up being full term. But instead of allowing the antiquities to fall victim to total destruction, the authorities took action.

The first protection measures were undertaken in the periods of truce which alternated with the destruction. Firstly the smaller finds and most vulnerable objects were removed and placed in storerooms in the museum’s basements and were walled up so that no access was possible to the lower underground floors. The mosaics in the floors of the museum were also covered in a layer of concrete and large unmovable objects such as sarcophagi and statues were protected by sandbags. However, with the situation further worsening, in 1982 these sandbags were replaced by concrete cases which were built around wooden structures that surrounded the monuments. It was measures such as these which eventually saved a vast majority of the artifacts and monuments in the museum.

When cease-fire was announced in 1991 the museum was in a state of extraordinary destruction. Water flooded the basement levels and poured from the roofs and windows. The outer walls were covered in shots and shell-holes and the inner walls were covered in graffiti left by the militia who used the museum as a barracks. The flooded basements left many artifacts beyond repair, and shellfire had left many documents and 45 boxes of archaeological objects destroyed alongside all the lab equipment. In 1992 the first plans to restore the museum were set out by Michel Edde the then Minister of Culture and Higher Education. But the initial proposal was turned down because of the state of the building leaving it in danger of looting. But once the doors and windows were put in with the help of private donations, the concrete barring the basement was removed and the restoration could begin.

The restoration work continued through 1995 to 2000, starting on the building itself and inventory, recording and restoration of objects. This was made possible through the work of the Ministry of Culture, the Directorate General of Antiquities and the National Heritage Foundation. In 1997 the doors reopened to the ground floors but then closed again in 1998 for modifications and modernisation. The museum reopened again in 1999 with over 1300 archaeological artifacts on display. The rehabilitation continued on the underground galleries but already the museum was returning to its former significance especially as a leading collector of Ancient Phoenician objects. The museum is now under the directorship of Anne-Marie Ofeish and retains many of the artifacts which were originally packed away and successfully saved.

Human history is full of wars and conflicts and artifacts and archaeology often suffer in the process which is a great shame. Through efforts such as those undertaken in this case we are lucky to see such wonderful artifacts survive.

For further information:

http://www.beirutnationalmuseum.com/e-histoire.htm

Short Documentary – “Beirut National Museum;Rebirth”